I’m a pretty shy person, so meeting new people isn’t always the easiest activity. — Or at least that’s what I used to think.
A couple of weeks ago, over half a dozen Asian American associations hosted a big meet-up event for Memorial Day Weekend. One of my friends, seeing an opportunity to expand her social network, asked me to join her. After thinking for a few minutes, I said “yes.”
Staying Indoors: Consuming Culture
So far, my single biggest hurdle in writing this blog has been overcoming my fear of how people would perceive my intentions. (I’ve talked about this in a few other blog posts before.) On one hand, that fear made me pretty neurotic and almost killed the blog. On the other, it made me a lot more resourceful.
To put it in an unromantic–and kind of crude way–most people understand culture by its byproducts. By that I mean, we like to buy and sell things treating those objects as though they are culture. Going to a museum, eating food, watching a film, attending a concert or a holiday festival, reading a book, buying swag: these are all things that we “consume.” And when we do, we feel a little bit more connected–like we just experienced or participated in genuine culture.
Unfortunately, Chicago has very few public spaces dedicated to “consuming” Taiwan. But over time, if you’re clever enough, and can read enough Chinese, you can consume culture without needing to do so in public spaces. In fact, you barely have to interact with people at all. I have dozens of Taiwan-specific websites on my Delicious and StumbleUpon accounts that allow me to download music, get books shipped to my apartment, watch streaming movies and TV shows, shop for the latest fashions, and even get groceries delivered to my door–all without having to actually talk to anyone in the process.
Ironically, because I was too scared to branch out, meet people, and risk being rejected, I started to slowly fall into the trap of merely consuming Taiwan. And as a result, during that time, I started to feel really disconnected.
On the bright side, I now know that no matter where I am in the world, if I want something that’s uniquely Taiwanese, I can probably figure out how to find it. Because of technology, geography is only a minor barrier.
Going to Social Groups: Connecting with People
When I said “yes” to my friend, I didn’t know what to expect. In fact, I’m still unraveling and trying to sort out all of the different kinds of interactions I’ve had in the past few weeks. Perhaps that will be a post for another day.
But even after attending just a few events, talking to people, and scribbling my name onto a few listservs, I’ve realized that there are actually a lot more opportunities than I expected for Taiwanese ex-pat, immigrant, and American communities to connect with each other here in the Mid-West.
When I meet other Mid-Westerners (from places outside of Chicago), I start wondering what life looks like for them locally. For instance, I recently met a woman from St. Louis who told me that she had never heard of any social or professional organizations specifically geared to Taiwanese Americans in her hometown.
Interestingly, on the other side of that, I have seen culture specific spaces turn into pan-ethnic spaces. Like when I went to an event for Dragon Boat Festival (端午節) hosted by Taiwanese American Professionals (TAP). I’d say 1/3 of the people I met personally said that they weren’t Taiwanese. But they were ethnically Chinese or Cantonese people interested in having a space to participate in the tradition of wrapping zongzi (粽子).
Branching out again has really opened me up to new and awesome relationships with some really cool people. Although I’ve had positive, neutral, and disappointing experiences, the positive ones remind me why I started blogging in the first place: I like to connect with others and try to see myself in their stories. On the surface, even though we may be expected to “consume” different things or our families may have different histories, there are still lots of things that connect us. And those connections are important.
Going forward, I really want to balance consuming Taiwanese culture with (fearlessly) connecting with people who like to do the same (whether that be because of heritage, ethnicity, or some other reason).
If you’re in the Chicago area and want to catch an event, let me know.
On a slightly related musical note [and because of the upcoming Golden Melody Awards]:
R. Chord (謝和弦)’s song Crazy Lonely (寂寞瘋了) is one of the nominees for Best Video in the upcoming 23rd Golden Melody Awards this year. The message of the song: Staying at home to “connect” with people online will make you “crazy lonely.” (Music sample: The Roots – You Got Me) (Subtitles included.)